Cobb Commission welcomes Atlanta Braves stadium in 4 to 1 MOU vote

By Maria Saporta

Executives with the Atlanta Braves were in a celebratory mood Tuesday night after the Cobb County Commission voted 4 to 1 in favor of the agreement to build a $672 million stadium near the I-75 and I-285.

“This is a most significant and historic day for our franchise,” said John Schuerholz, president of the Atlanta Braves, after the vote. “This gold standard franchise is joining with this gold standard county. We are thrilled with how this turned out tonight.”

pro-Cobb stadium advocates proudly wave their slick posters (Photos by Maria Saporta)

pro-Cobb stadium advocates proudly wave their slick posters (Photos by Maria Saporta)

The meeting of the Cobb Commission lasted for more than two-and-a-half hours with most of the time being turned over for public comment.

About 275 people filled the standing-room only meeting area and dozens of others were able to watch the proceedings from an overflow room.

Passions were high with about half of the crowd being those supporting the Braves move to Cobb County — most of those being business leaders carrying slick posters with the Braves logos.

The rest of the crowd included an assortment of folks who were urging for a delay in the vote so they could have more time to study the deal to those who were against any public funding in a sports stadium. About $300 million of the project is being financed through public funding, including increased taxation among property owners in the Cumberland Community Improvement District as well as a reallocation of bond money that voters had approved to go to parks until 2017.

Cobb Chair Tim Lee greets Braves EVP Mike Plant before the meeting

Cobb Chair Tim Lee greets Braves EVP Mike Plant before the meeting

The Braves deal would extend that funding to help pay for annual operations of the stadium, but Cobb Commissioners do not plan give voters a chance to approve that extension and reallocation of funds.

Public comments varied from those who called the Braves move to Cobb a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to those who were incredulous that the Commission was being asked to vote on such a financially complicated deal which only  surfaced two weeks ago.

“We spent two years discussing whether we could have chickens in our backyards, and we are spending two weeks on how we’re spending $300 million,” one Cobb County resident told the Commission who called the deal “taxation without representation.”

Opponents to the stadium MOU vote Tuesday night show their hand-painted signs

Opponents to the stadium MOU vote Tuesday night show their hand-painted signs

After 23 people spoke, including one woman — Susan Stanton — presented 791 petitions compiled by Campaign for Liberty that  called for no taxpayer funding to be spent on professional sports facilities.

After the period of public comment, Cobb Commission Chairman, who had predicted that the deal would be approved by a unanimous vote, made the motion to move forward with the memorandum of understanding with the Atlanta Braves.

He did see that a couple of changes had been made in the MOU. Lee said the Atlanta Braves had agreed to a $35 million cap on the county’s share of the “capital maintenance fund.” Maintenance costs previously did not have a cap, and Cobb County and the Braves would have split those expenses.

Five Cobb Commissioners gather before meeting begins

Five Cobb Commissioners gather before meeting begins

The second change in the MOU was to remove the “arterial railway,” which Lee said might not be able to be built by 2017 when the Braves plan to begin playing in the new stadium.

The one commissioner who voted against the MOU Tuesday night was Lisa Cupid, who insisted that she supported the Braves move to Cobb County. But she said that some of her concerns about the deal “still linger,” and that she couldn’t vote yes without Cobb County completing all the due diligence on the deal.

She also said that the pressure for her to vote for the deal had become personal.

Commissioner Lisa Cupid gets a hug from a supporter after the vote

Commissioner Lisa Cupid gets a hug from a supporter after the vote

“It frightens me the number of threats I have received,” Cupid said. “If you wanted a 5 to 0 vote, you could have gotten it. But I won’t ever be bullied into sacrificing my position by the people who put me in this position.”

She ended her comments by saying that she could “not in good conscience vote for the MOU, but I do support the Braves being here in Cobb County.”

Commissioner Joann Birrell said she was following her convictions by voting in favor of the MOU.

Bob Ott, who at times sounded as though he might support a move to delay the vote, said he had received about 2,000 emails and another 1,000 phone calls. He said he did not believe a 60-day delay would mean that he would get more information that would change his mind.

Lisa Cupid gets a hug from one of her supporters after the vote

Lisa Cupid gets a hug from one of her supporters after the vote

And Commissioner Helen Goreham acknowledged that the work that has occurred in the past couple of weeks has been at “an accelerated pace,” but it hasn’t happened so fast that she wouldn’t be able to support the move.

The commissioners then voted 4 to 1 in favor of the MOU, and the pro-stadium crowd erupted in applause and cheers.

At the press briefing after the vote, Braves’ executives said they were listening to those who had concerns about the deal.

“Their voices were heard loudly,” Schuerholz said.

Braves President John Schuerholz  calls it a historic day while Derek Schiller and Mike Plant look on

Braves President John Schuerholz calls it a historic day while Derek Schiller and Mike Plant look on

Mike Plant, the Braves’ executive vice president of business operations, said that a delay would have hurt the tight development, design and construction schedule so that the team can play in the new stadium in April 2017 and have the adjacent entertainment and retail complex open at the same time.

The Braves will play in Turner Field for the next three years until their lease runs out at the end of  2016.

“We got to one finish line tonight,” said Plant, who did not elaborate on the other finish lines that the project faces going forward. Asked whether the Braves could back out of the deal, Plant answered: “It is a legally-binding document. We are coming to Cobb County.”

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10 comments
ScottNAtlanta
ScottNAtlanta

The money quote...

“We spent two years discussing whether we could have chickens in our backyards, and we are spending two weeks on how we’re spending $300 million,” one Cobb County resident told the Commission who called the deal “taxation without representation.”

What a bunch of hypocrites...no transit by God...guess what...black people are still gonna go to the games...better get used to it.

m2t
m2t

"The second change in the MOU was to remove the 'arterial railway'"

"Rail" really is a four letter word up there, isn't it?

John Hutcheson
John Hutcheson

Business as usual. Money rules, people suffer. Bully anyone who might represent a minority view. 

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

@ScottNAtlanta

"What a bunch of hypocrites...no transit by God...guess what...black people are still gonna go to the games...better get used to it."

Which black people do you mean? The 226,000 in the City of Atlanta or the 185,000 in Cobb County? 

John Hutcheson
John Hutcheson

@m2t 

What is so disappointing about this whole deal is that City of Atlanta officials believed the 'head fake' to regionalism -- 'we'll go to Cobb and open-up transit to that side of the region.' That of course, was never the intent -- the intent was to further insulate Cobb from the City. Without transit, there will be much greater pressure for the GA DOT to subsidize road improvements in the South Cobb area without improving access from the City across the river. What is more distressing is that this is going to destroy what is left of the residential integrity the of many of the smaller middle-class communities in South Cobb and only the more wealthy, East Cobb and North Cobb communities will profit -- the South Cobb communities will suffer at the expense of the wealthy regions of Cobb, and all of us who pay state taxes will pay for resurrecting real estate investors and development in North Cobb.  Denser traffic in the South Cobb area will make it ever more difficult for people in Atlanta to access jobs in South Cobb County. So, clearly, people suffer. The past is prelude #2. 

Deacon7
Deacon7

@John Hutcheson 

People suffer?  The Braves organization is a business, regardless of how emotionally attached the fans feel.  Businesses respond to incentives and invest in new facilities if they believe the investment will provide an attractive return on investment and keep them competitive for the future.  That's all this is about.  At this point in time the Braves got the best offer for incentives from Cobb, so the more interesting question will be did the Cobb Commissioners make a smart business decision agreeing to provide $300 million in public funding.  I am not so  sure those numbers will pencil but we shall see. Once the new stadium opens the team will still be located in the metro region, still be without a rail stop nearby, still face traffic jams on game days and most likely still enjoy good attendance. When I first heard about the move I was as shocked as anyone but the more I think about it I can't see how the Braves could ever be expected to turn down a $300 million gift.

Deacon7
Deacon7

@John Hutcheson @m2t 

What a wacky theory that the intent of commissioners was "to further insulate Cobb from the City" by providing public financing for a facility that will draw several million fans annually from all over the metro area and the region. To go further and conclude that residents of East Cobb and North Cobb will profit at the expense of South Cobb is another random conclusion.   

John Hutcheson
John Hutcheson

@Deacon7 @John Hutcheson 

I understand the economics of the deal the deal from a business perspective. My concern is that it is a losing proposition for the whole region and that we appear to have let a private concern drive public decisions -- which is, I think, a bad deal for everyone. The region, its people are assuming significant risk, while being left out of the decision-making process. If this were truly a private decision, the people should not be assuming any of the risk. 

m2t
m2t

I also don't blame the Braves for taking Cobb County's money, but I don't know many "businesses" that regularly require a $300 million subsidy from the government in order for their business plan to work.

John Hutcheson
John Hutcheson

@Deacon7 @John Hutcheson @m2t What's your theory? How is the public good to be served and how wins and who loses? -- How is that area of Cobb going to develop. I've been watching land-use patterns and residential segregation in the Atlanta for over 50 years -- what I am saying will happen is merely an extension of what has happened all over the region over the past fifty years because we have always let business determine land use patterns rather than the public -- so, what is your alternative theory and how do you support it?